We know why men toss women into swimming pools, and we know why men have a DNA requirement to try to make women laugh, but what is it about men driving cars and harassing women on the street?  It seems as if the stereotypical wolf-whistle has moved from the sidewalk of a construction site and into the anonymous, mobile, safety of the driver’s seat.


I hear so many stories from female friends — and even my darling wife! — who have to deal with men following them in cars as they walk along the street.

These men hang out near railway stations and bus stops — and generic street intersections — and when they see a woman they want to engage, they start up their cars and begin the low-speed chase.

The men honk and wave their arms and say disgusting things that, I guess, are supposed to sexually excite a woman so much that she’ll be inexplicably drawn into the passenger seat of the car and ride off into his smoggy sunset.

When these women try to ignore these men in cars, they are followed even closer — turn-by-turn, block-by-block — and the come-ons become insults and the passion changes to hatred. 

The only way to escape these unwanted followers is to abruptly turn around and walk in the other direction — walk, don’t run, or you’ll look scared and vulnerable — but that doesn’t always work because these guys are experts at turning around and finding you again.  They’ll even camp out at an intersection to track you.

So these women are forced to go out of their way to avoid the stalkers-in-cars — sometimes they have to travel several long blocks to find a safer route home — and that unfairly adds time and distance to already tired feet and exhausted minds.

A few women try to fight back by making a phone call while being trailed — that usually works because a “third party” is introduced into the chaser/chased dyad, and that ruins the fun for the chaser.

Some women even try to use their cellular phones to take a photo of the guy, his car, and his license plates.

The image-taking route is dangerous because it invites the next stage of a physical confrontation as the stalker parks his ride to do everything he can to remove any identifying information from the woman’s cellphone.

Why do you think men follow women in cars?  Are they seeking the thrill of rejection or do they really think they will entice a woman that way?

Is this an American, big city, phenomenon — or is men-in-cars stalking women also happening in the villages and hamlets of a quieter USA?  Does this happen in other countries, too?

33 Comments

  1. I understand that instinct, Anne, and it might work momentarily — but if the cops show up and talk to that guy — will you be safe from him the next day or the next or the next? He isn’t breaking any laws talking to you from his car…

  2. We have what are known as curb crawlers which usually frequent our *red light* districts (areas where prostitutes ply their trade). They cruise up and down looking at what is on offer.
    In some towns there are even designated zones where this is permitted. This is where town officials have recognised that they cannot stop the prostitutes from plying their trade – but they can control where it happens by controlling it by “zoning”. The allow certain freedoms in those zones but NOT outside of them.
    It sounds to me that the men in American cities have designated New York and other major cities as their own cruising zone.
    Oh for a few super confident highly trained women to take them on and play then at their own game – a special NYPD squad in plain clothes arresting them in random swoops should soon sort them out.
    My advice would be make official complaints to law officers with car plate numbers each time it happens and start asking questions of your local politicians at public meetings and at the hustings for the election. Combine this with use of phone ins on local radio.
    Have an initial campaign of 3/6 months then start asking how many complaints have been made and ask what they are going to do about it.

  3. Second comment to add that in the UK incidents such as this would be classed as stalking/harassment and their is legislation in place to help control the problem.

  4. That’s great advice, Nicola, thanks! It may be a cultural thing as well. Some incomes and cultures are more centered around “the car as identity” than others. I feel for the young women that just want to walk home in peace without getting harassed. At least when they walk past a construction site, they know their humiliation will only last that block and not several blocks all the way home.

  5. Thanks for that extra info, Nicola! We have have a national stalking law in the USA — so it’s up to the states to decide what stalking means and if it is chronic or not. I don’t think one or two times is enough for a “stalking” charge. I think it needs to be ongoing with verifiable threats beyond the stalker and the stalkee.

  6. David,
    Although, other forms of harassment have been known to occur on the streets – lewd remarks and gestures – men-in-cars stalking women isn’t a common phenomenon in India.

  7. Hi David,
    Yes, it’s creepy, no doubt.
    First day I didn’t even realise I was being followed as I was walking in the campus at night. I noticed a car slowed down and a guy shouted at me as he rolled down his window. I was on the other side of the road and thought he had a genuine question – so I stopped. Then I realised he didn’t look like a student. In fact he didn’t look like a decent human being at all. I sensed something wrong and kept on walking till I found the first building to get into.
    Next time my follower took off when he saw the campus police car – he thought I called them.
    It happened with me in Calcutta once while I was coming back from work. It was late and I denied a colleague’s offer to escort me with a heroic retort as usual. I took a cab and after 10/15 mins I realised a SUV is following me as it came pretty close. I asked the cab driver to take a “U” turn and to head towards the nearest police station. When we took a “U”, our follower fled – end of it!

  8. I am so glad your gut told you not to approach the car, Katha! Yikes! Scary stuff! You were very smart to take a U and head to the police precinct. It’s the only way to fight that kind of harassment. Did that incident happen in India or the USA?

  9. Yes David, scary – to say the least when I think of the possible outcomes! Double yikes!
    The last incident happened in Calcutta, India – in my own city – can You believe it?

  10. Ok, I think I goofed up.
    The first two incidents happened in the USA, both in the university campus.
    The last one happened in Calcutta, the city I grew up in, almost 5 years back.

  11. Okay, I got it now, Katha! Sometimes businesses build their own “campuses” — Microsoft has one and so does Google — so I wasn’t sure if you mean schooling or working. I am so glad you got away. What a terrible thing to have to flee for basic safety!

  12. Good Heavens! What a price we pay for being women. The sad thing is that these men are not a respecter of age. I was only 13 when a man in a car made his attempt. Usually, you can just keep walking and ignore them. Eventually, they get the message. However, here they are not always in an automobile. They may be on a motorcycle or (believe it or not) a bicycle. Yes! I said, a bicycle! I must admit, I’ve been guilty of kicking a few of them off of the bicycles and running. Hey! A girl can only take so much before it’s just ridiculous! I think our society has lost something in the “respect others” department.

  13. Oh boy.
    It’s no surprise to see the many comments by Indian women here – stalking in India – on foot, usually – is So common that 95% of the general urban population thinks it is par for the course 🙁
    The lack of laws here on stalking is a joke; as a past survivor and current victim ( VERY traumatic tale, can mail you privately) let me tell you: car or no car, stalking is a sick, deluded power game. One with no winners

  14. I’ve lost count of how many times I have experienced this, innocently walking down the street! It’s repulsive, but even the most street-wise and sensible of women find themselves unsure of what to do in these situations! I’m only 15 and I just freak out inside when I feel it’s going on. Once I was followed from school all the way to my road – I got my phone out and rang my mum, speaking loud so they could hear, but they didn’t stop! It didn’t threaten them. It was only until another car came behind them wanting to drive past that they had no choice but to speed off. I’m always scared they’ll find out where I live and wait for me, but so far I’ve been lucky.

    I just think somebody should do or say something to stop this. It’s not fair. And it’s happening to women and girls of all ages! I think it’s so disrespectful – they shouldn’t be allowed.